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Rosellas

Rosella Parakeets can be found all over Australia, with different species in different regions. It is thought that their name originates from where they were first encountered by early settlers – the Rose Hill region of Sydney, resulting in the name “Rose Hiller” or “Rosella”. These birds are easily identified by the scalloped markings on their backs, although many different colour variants may be seen.

The most common pets are:

  • Crimson Rosellas (Platycercus elegans) distinguished by their crimson plumage and bright blue cheeks.
  • Eastern or Golden-mantled rosellas (Platycercus eximius) distinguished by their red heads, white cheek patches and yellow-green and blue plumage.

Most species of rosellas are sexually monomorphic, meaning that they can only be sexed by DNA testing, from a blood sample or feather pluck.

Scientific Classification

Rosellas belong to the Order Psittaciformes, Family Psittacidae, Genus Platycercus (the broad-tailed parrots) of which there are 8 species of rosellas.

General Care

Rosellas naturally live in large flocks but, in captivity, are best kept in pairs as they can be aggressive to other birds. Ideally, they will be happiest in a spacious aviary set up. This should be an outdoor enclosure made of strong wire mesh (which should be zinc free), with an easily cleanable floor and plenty of room for the birds to fly around. In addition to the flying area, a sheltered sleeping area should be provided to protect from the worst of the British weather. The shelter should also provide shade on any sunny days. Perches can be placed at varying heights around the enclosure, with branches of different diameters providing the most natural setup. Appropriate branches can include those from the ash, hazel, birch, willow, eucalyptus, chestnut, sycamore, elder and untreated fruit trees. It is also particularly important to ensure that the enclosure is secure, both to stop the birds getting out (double security doors are the best way to prevent an escape) and to stop predators getting in.

Alternatively, if an aviary is not an option, rosellas may be housed indoors in a cage setup. Indoor birds will require more individual attention and stimulation but will often form a close bond with their owners. A cage setup should also be as spacious as possible and placed out of direct sunlight and draughts. It should also be situated away from any item that may give off toxic fumes, such as non-stick cooking utensils, which can release lethal fumes when heated. It is similarly important to ensure that the cage is made out of zinc-free materials as zinc is also very toxic to these birds. A variety of branches can be placed as perches as in an aviary setup, and different toys should be added and changed regularly to entertain birds. It is, however, important to bear in mind that these birds do have powerful beaks and will easily demolish many pet shop toys, so natural alternatives such as pine cones, which are easily replaced, may be a useful addition. If planning to be out of the house for a long time, it is also a good idea to leave a radio programme on at a low volume to give the birds some stimulation.

Free flight is an essential requirement and birds should be given the opportunity for exercise daily. It is, however, important to ensure that the room they are allowed to fly around in is totally secure with all windows, doors and chimneys blocked off, heaters and fans turned off and any potentially poisonous house plants removed or covered. If started young, birds can be easily trained to perch on an arm and returned to the cage.

Hygiene

Cages should be “spot-cleaned” daily to remove any droppings, feathers, uneaten greens or husks. Once a week, ideally while the birds are exercising, the whole cage and furniture can be disinfected (further details of suitable disinfectants can be obtained from your vet) and branches replaced as necessary.

Diet

In the wild, these birds eat a wide variety of seeds including those of grasses, shrubs, eucalypts, as well as fruit, berries and some insects. In captivity, seed mixes can be provided, most of the common mixtures containing millet seed. Larger fatty seeds such as sunflower seeds should be avoided. Alternatively, good-quality complete pellet diets are now available, which can provide a much better balance of nutrients.

Some fresh green food can also be fed, such as seeding grasses, dandelions, chickweeds and groundsel. It is important, however, to ensure that these are from non-polluted sites and washed thoroughly before feeding.

A cuttlebone should be provided for additional calcium and to allow the bird to wear down its beak. Grit will provide additional minerals and aid with digestion of food. Treats can include small pieces of oranges, apples, corn on the cob or grated carrot. Water should be available both for drinking, and in a shallow saucer for bathing.

Fresh food and water should be provided daily and food containers cleaned out.

Lifespan

Rosellas can live for over 20 years.

Signs of Health

A healthy rosella will be bright and alert with clear eyes and nostrils, shiny feathers and a clean vent. It is important to become familiar with your rosella’s normal behaviour and droppings, in order that signs of illness can be noticed at an early stage. Beak and nails should also be checked regularly in case trimming is required. It is advisable to take your bird to a vet who routinely deals with birds for a general health check at least once a year.

Signs of Illness

Birds will often not show obvious signs of illness until they are very sick, but you should look out for your rosella appearing “fluffed up”, breathing fast or noisily with its mouth open, any discharges from the eyes or nostrils or any changes in droppings. Changes in beak, nail or feather condition, including excessive feather plucking may also indicate a more chronic illness. If you have any concerns, do not hesitate to contact a vet as soon as possible.

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This caresheet is only intended as a general guideline, so please ask for further information. Written and researched by Joanna Hedley BVM&S MRCVS

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